Disposable and washable diapers

Disposable and washable diapers
How to choose a good disposable or washable diaper.

Features to look for in a good diaper

No matter what type of diaper you choose, it should have certain important characteristics:

  • Good absorption: Diapers that can absorb a lot of liquid don’t need to be changed as often.
  • The ability to keep your baby dry: A diaper should trap moisture, and your baby’s bottom should not be in direct contact with the absorbent part of the diaper.
  • The ability to prevent leaks: The same model of diaper may leak more or less depending on the size and shape of the child wearing it.

Disposable diapers

A child goes through 4,500 to 6,000 disposable diapers in the first few years of their life.

Disposable diapers are composed of multiple layers:

  • An absorbent medium made of wood fibres and superabsorbent polymers. Crystals turn urine into a gel and prevent the formation of a urine/feces mixture that could irritate the baby’s skin.
  • A top sheet that is in direct contact with the baby’s skin. It traps moisture and keeps the skin dry.
  • A waterproof exterior.

Disposable diapers may appear dry even if a baby has just emptied their bladder. It’s therefore preferable to change them regularly to avoid irritation. It’s also recommended to avoid scented diapers, which sometimes cause skin irritation.

Which disposable diapers should you choose?

Diaper quality varies from one brand to another, so it’s important to try different diapers to find the one that’s best for your baby. However, better quality often means a slightly higher price. To save money, we recommend buying in bulk, except when it comes to newborns, since they outgrow diapers quickly.

Cloth diapers

Cloth diapers consist of an absorbent fabric layer and a waterproof outer shell.

The absorbent layer may be made of various fabrics. Cotton is the cheapest but least absorbent option. Bamboo, hemp, and microfibre diapers are more absorbent.

There are various models of cloth diapers on the market, and there are often different variations available for the same model. For example, some diapers fasten with Velcro, while others fasten with snap buttons. Some can be adjusted as your baby grows.

Nice and dry!
Diapers that have a microsuede or microfleece liner will keep your baby drier. These types of liners are generally found in all-in-one, pocket, and some fitted diapers. If you’re using another type of diaper, you can add a washable microsuede or microfleece liner to it.

Types of cloth diapers

  • Flat cloth diapers: Flat diapers consist of a simple rectangle of fabric that is folded, fastened, and covered with a waterproof shell. Because this type of diaper sits directly against the baby’s skin, there is more risk of irritation. On the plus side, it’s the most affordable type of cloth diaper on the market.
  • Fitted diapers: Fitted diapers are similar in shape and fit to disposables. They don’t need to be folded before being covered by a waterproof shell. As with flat diapers, the baby’s skin is in direct contact with the absorbent part of the diaper.
  • Pocket diapers: These diapers feature a waterproof cover that has a pocket in which an absorbent pad is inserted. An inner liner prevents the baby’s skin from coming into direct contact with the absorbent part of the diaper. It’s also possible to add an insert to increase the diaper’s absorbency. This type of diaper is more expensive.
  • All-in-one diapers: All-in-one diapers look similar to disposable diapers. They are usually made in one piece, but some may have a detachable absorbent liner. This is the most expensive type of cloth diaper.

The most important factors when choosing a cloth diaper are the size and shape of the baby and the family’s preferences. It’s also worth remembering that while one-size diapers are less expensive, multi-size diapers allow for a more precise fit.

Which diapers are the most economical?

Although cloth diapers are initially more expensive than disposables, they often save you money in the long run. In addition, some municipalities offer a subsidy of about $100 with the purchase of cloth diapers. Plus, cloth diapers can be reused for a second baby.

How to use cloth diapers

Cloth diapers should be washed every two days. It’s recommended to have 24 to 36 flat or fitted diapers and 6 to 10 diaper covers. If you’re using pocket or all-in-one diapers, 12 to 16 should be enough to start.

To soak or not to soak?
Washing instructions can vary greatly from one type of cloth diaper to another. Some manufacturers strongly recommend against soaking their diapers or using bleach, as doing so may decrease absorbency. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

When changing a diaper, the stool must first be flushed down the toilet. You can add a disposable liner for easier clean up. Next, place the soiled, unrinsed diaper in a pail made for this purpose. Soaking is no longer the norm—today, the vast majority of diapers must be stored dry.

Each manufacturer has its own washing instructions. In general, at the time of washing, cloth diapers must first be rinsed with cold water. They can then be washed in warm or hot water, followed by a final rinse.

Don’t use your washing machine’s sanitize setting, as it may damage the diaper’s Velcro fasteners and elastics. In addition, if you’re using a front-loading washer, it’s recommended that you set the water level to maximum to prevent residue after washing.

Cloth diapers can be placed in the dryer or hung to dry on a clothesline. All-in-one diapers usually take longer to dry, whereas pocket diapers dry faster because they can be disassembled.

There are also commercial diaper cleaning services, which usually provide diapers to their customers. They then pick up the dirty diapers at the customer’s home and replace them with clean ones.

Which diapers are best for the environment?

There’s an ongoing debate on the environmental impact of diapers. Disposable diapers cause more pollution to produce, and they generate more waste. However, maintaining cloth diapers takes a lot of water and energy. The use of cloth diapers also varies from one family to another, which complicates the analysis.

According to an independent British study, the environmental impact of disposable and cloth diapers is actually quite similar. However, an Australian study concluded that cloth diapers cause less pollution—though only if they are washed at home in cold water in a water-efficient front-loading machine and then dried on a clothesline.

That said, findings from Australia and the UK may not be applicable here because hydroelectricity—the main source of energy in Quebec—is low-polluting, and Quebec has large water reserves.

Using cloth diapers may therefore be more environmentally advantageous in Quebec. However, no studies have been conducted in Canada to determine whether this is the case.

What about eco-friendly disposable diapers?

So-called eco-friendly disposable diapers are available on the market nowadays. Some manufacturers claim that their diapers are made of materials from renewable sources and free from petroleum- or chlorine-based products. But because the diapers haven’t been certified by an independent organization, it’s impossible to know whether the manufacturers’ claims are true. To date, there are no studies that prove that such diapers are actually less damaging to the environment.

Disposable diapers labelled as eco-friendly can cost up to three times more than regular ones. From the time a child is born to when they are potty-trained, this can mean an additional expense of almost $2,000.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Valérie de Beaumont, graduate nurse and IBCLC
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: July 2019

Photo: GettyImages/skynesher


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